I heard there was some sort of Thames Festival on this weekend, one held by the Mayor himself. Although I was engaged on Saturday in one of those places that aren’t London, I thought today would be a fine opportunity to investigate. On the left I may be seen as a roaring lion, walking about, seeking whom I may devour in the shadow of Tower Bridge.
The event that particularly took my interest was the Thames Revival in St Katherine Docks. This was a rather retro-inspired event, hence the hat (any excuse). It would feature various exciting displays, including a number of historic ships.
I’m a great one for historic ships. When I was about six, my favourite TV programme was the now-largely-forgotten Tugs, a series about tugboats set in the 1920s and way too good for kids. It was a sort of cross between Thomas the Tank Engine and On the Waterfront. Anyway, the result of this was that I developed a fascination with old-fashioned watercraft.
There was therefore plenty for me at this event, with representatives of seemingly every type of craft from rowing boats up to cargo ships. On the right you may see the steam tugs Portwey and Barking, as well as the coaster VIC 96. The latter was based heavily on the Clyde Puffers, versatile cargo boats used around the coasts and rivers of the Scottish Highlands, and immortalised by Neil Munro in the Para Handy stories.
I had a bit of a look around this vessel, and the picture on the right shows the view from the wheelhouse. The name “VIC 96” is, as you might imagine, a code. This was one of the Victually Inshore Craft, which were built during the Second World War to service Admiralty vessels, the Clyde Puffers having proven ideal for this task during the Great War. VIC 96 was built in 1945 and is one of only three surviving steam-engined puffers. She is normally berthed in Chatham. Interesting fact: it turns out that a fedora, velvet jacket and antique cane are not the best attire for climbing about a VIC’s engine room.
Having explored this ship, and as much of the Barking as I could, I returned to shore – though not before nearly losing my lovely new cane into the river. The Museum of London’s archaeology service have been singularly unhelpful when I have called upon them under similar circumstances, so I am pleased I did not have to do so this time.
I then enjoyed a fresh crayfish sandwich (not being brave enough to try crayfish in their shells – I’d blatantly end up with a claw in the eye or something) and a delightful scone with jam and cream. Basically, if you ever need to bribe me for any reason, a cream tea is a good start.
Thereafter, I headed over to watch a display of swing dancing, shown in the tiny photo on the left. You may recall my previous misadventures in swing dancing, which started as comical, became pitiful and ended with my instructor bringing out a revolver and resolving to “put [me] out of [my] misery.”
By this stage, the dock was filling up a bit more. For a start, I was no longer the only one in period fashion. The Chap magazine expressed a hope that this event would become the nautical equivalent of the Goodwood Revival, a similarly retro-styled festival. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t.
To this end, and to give those with interests other than historic ships something nice to look at, there was a vintage fashion show. The marvellous Vivien of Holloway and Fairy Gothmother had a strong presence here, as you might imagine. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about women’s fashion of the mid-twentieth century.
I crossed the river at this point to the South Bank, where further festivities were going on. I was surprised to note a large number of rollerbladers crossing the bridge for reasons I have yet to ascertain. I choose to believe it was simply coincidence, and hundreds of rollerbladers happened to cross at that time entirely by accident.
There was relatively little that I can write about in an interesting fashion over there. A lot of home-made jewelery, exciting food and beer tents. I discovered that chocolate fondue gives me an awful tummy-ache, and the woman telling me enthusiastically about Qi didn’t help much either. Damn their eyes, I thought it was a stand about QI. I was hoping for Stephen Fry.